Occasional mild constipation can happen to anyone – often it is due to a stressful event, interruptions to your routine, or diet (maybe you were traveling, or you just went a little crazy with the cheese plate). But generally, as long as you get back to you normal routine or diet, or the stress subsides – the constipation will resolve and you will be feeling normal in a day or so. If you have ever had occasional constipation, you know the feeling – discomfort, bloating, feeling full, gassy and sluggish. Now imagine what it would be like to feel that way most of the time. Chronic constipation is hte #1 cause of kids’ belly pain, and a common reason to miss school and activities. In addition – being constipated can impede the body’s ability to detoxify. When constipation is ongoing or chronic, it generally is a signal that something is amiss somewhere in the digestion and elimination process – with the organs, the nerves, and anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract.
In some cases, constipation can become a medical emergency. According to this article by Dr. Mercola – Constipation Emergencies are on the Rise, “there was a 42 percent increase in ER visits for constipation in the US between 2006 and 2011.” If chronic constipation goes on for a long time, it could leads to a blockage, also known as fecal impaction.
Not everyone agrees on the definition of constipation – some experts say as long as you “go” 3 times a week, you are fine. But most natural & holistic health practitioners say anything less than 1 daily movement is constipation. You should look before you flush, because another way to identify constipation is by the quality of the stool – even if you are passing stool – if they are hard, little pebbles – it is considered constipation. (see below Bristol stool chart). Another consideration is when you are not completely emtpying the bowel – incomplete evacuations are another sign of constipation. Also – if someone has to strain every time they go in order to pass the stool – this is another sign of constipation. The ideal situation is to have at least one complete evacuation of the bowel daily with a type 3 or 4 bowel movement on the Bristol Stool chart – which is a smooth and easy to pass stool. Some people may pass more than 1 daily.
Chronic constipation can be caused by a long list of issues including:
For constipation sufferers – the tasteless and odorless over the counter medication Miralax seemed to offer an easy solution to the problem – just stir it into a glass of water or juice, and drink it down – problem solved, right? Not so fast…although doctors have been recommending it as a safe solution for constipation in kids for years, prescribing Miralax is not FDA approved for use in children, so giving it to kids is an “off-label” use. And giving it to anyone for longer than a week is also off label. Miralax’s label – says that it is for use in people age 17 and over, and not for more than 7 days (without a doctor’s orders).
The research on the long-term safety of propylene glycol (PEG) use in kids is limited at best. And there have been concerns regarding the safty of Miralax’s use in children for several years. According to the NY Times, “the Empire State Consumer Project, a New York consumer group, sent a citizen petition to the F.D.A. on behalf of parents concerned about the increase in so-called adverse events related to PEG that health professionals and consumers have reported to the F.D.A. over the past decade.” According to this NY Times article, tests conducted by the F.D.A. in 2008 on eight batches of Miralax, found tiny amounts of ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG) in all of the samples – which are ingredients in antifreeze. Despite being conducted in 2008, the results of the tests were not disclosed to the public. The article also said that taking Miralax for long periods of time could lead to developing “acidic blood.”
Since the start of 2017, a growing number of parents have come forward complaining of a myriad of psychological, behavorial, and neurological symptoms that they have been linked to the active ingredient propylene glycol (PEG) found in Miralax and some other laxatives – these side effect include tics, stuttering, anger/aggression, depression, anxiety, memory issues, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and more. There is a Facebook group called Parents Against Miralax that has grown from about 2,000 to over 18,000 members in just a few weeks time.
Many doctors are still recommending it as a safe option, while others are questioning the safety. “Every pediatric GI physician, I would guarantee you, has told a family this is a safe product,” said Dr. Kent C. Williams, a gastroenterologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Now, he worries, “it may not be true.” According to the NY Times, “Scrutiny for Laxatives as a Childhood Remedy.”
Many kids and families have been using Miralax without being told of the potential risks, and having never been offered any natural alternatives to try first. Now with the possible side effect concerns – a lot of parents are scrambling to find a safe & natural alternative to Miralax – that works.
The good news is there are lots of natural alternatives that are safe, effective, and offer lots of positive health benefits.
Note: Do not expect constipation to resolve overnight – take your time and implement changes very slowly and gradually to allow the body to adjust. Any major changes made to the diet or with supplements are best done on the weekend when the child is not rushing out of the house, and can be near a toilet in case they happen to get loose stools, and home relaxing in case there is any discomfort, gas, or bloating. Kids under the age of 4, or with a medical conditions (such as kidney disease), or currently taking medications – should speak to their pediatrician or specialist before implementing any of the below suggestion. The content of this article is not to be construed as medical advice. – all information provided in this article is general and not specific to individuals. Contact your doctor or specialist with any questions about how this information pertains to you, your child.
Studies show that most kids are not replenishing enough fluids each day, making them chronically dehydrated. Without proper hydration, the stools can become hard and difficult to pass (Type 1 and 2 on the Bristol chart). Overtime this situation can become chronic constipation. Just correcting hydration alone can potentially solve the constipation problem for certain kids!
When constipation is chronic, going on an allergy elimination diet is a very good idea. Undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities can cause inflammation, digestive troubles, problems absorbing nutrients, and constipation. It is also important to discover a food sensitivity because they can lead to damage in the small intestine, and many other very serious health issues overtime. I generally recommend keeping a food journal for a few days before starting the elimination diet, during the elimination period, and after. Download this Food Mood Journal for free.
Almost any intolerance to a food could cause constipation, two of the most common culprits are dairy and gluten:
Test – Don’t want to do an elimation diet, or would rather just test? A food intolerance panel can be run to identify food intolerances as well – such as the ALCAT test.
Cutting back on sugary and processed or “enriched” foods will not only benefit digestion – but it will benefit weight, energy, and overall health too. Processed foods lack enzymes, fiber and nutrients. Diets that are highly processed and sugary not only can lead to constipation, but can also lead to inflammation in the gut and an overgrowth of candida, which is a yeast. Also – the more sweet foods a child eats, the less they will enjoy unsweetened foods like vegetables, so getting rid of the sugar for a little while helps to reset the taste buds and metabolism. High sugar consumption also raises our triglycerides, blood sugar, and increases our risk of many diseases. Read: 20 Reasons to Break up with Sugar to learn more.
Increasing foods that are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals like fruits and vegetables will help to get the digestion moving better. Some particularly good foods for constipation include: prunes and other dried fruits, pears, kiwis, blueberries, cooked beets, cooked sweet potatoes, cooked oatmeal, and (well hydrated) chia seeds.
If you want to get “things” moving – get moving!! Exercise is really important for overall health and digestion. Kids have more reasons than ever to be sedentary – lots of screentime, homework, etc. Kids who are not out being active can suffer from sluggish digestion. In addition to promoting regularity, exercise also benefits our mood, weight, energy, and sleep. So turn off the screens and get moving!
Healthy fats help to lubricate the colon and keep things moving. My favorite fat for constipation is coconut oil. It is antiviral, antibacterial – so it will help to improve the bacterial balance in the colon, and it also does not require bile salts for digstion – so those with a sluggish gallbladder will still be able to digest it well. It is also metabolism-boosting and easily converted into energy. Any adult that has tried a Bulletproof coffee (which has 1-2 Tablespoons of coconut oil, plus 1-2 Tablespoons of grass fed butter in it) can attest to the fact that eating a lot of coconut oil and butter can make you “go!” Other healthy fats that benefit digestion and metabolism include grass fed butter, flax oil (not for cooking), olive oil, and avocado oil.
Some ways to get coconut oil into the diet are – adding it to smoothies, stir into oatmeal, cook with it, and making these “coconut oil chocolates”:
It is important to make sure your child has enough time each morning to sit and relax on the potty before going off to school. Even if you have to wake them up earlier in the morning – make sure they have plenty of time after breakfast to sit on the potty. Morning is one of the most optimal times to have a bowel movement. Sometimes kids will “hold it” at school, traveling, or if they are out in public. Some teachers might restrict bathroom breaks, to limit disruptions to the school day. If your child suffers from urinary tract, constipation or digestive troubles; make sure to inform the teacher so he knows to not to restrict your child’s access to the bathroom. If the teacher does not agree, bring your issue to the principal, there is a disabilities act that prevents kids who have continence issues from being restricted from using the bathroom.
The modern toilet is not designed to put our bodies into the ideal position for moving our bowels. Raising the feet up onto a stool or a Squatty Potty can be very helpful in getting the anatomy in the right position to make a bowel movement. Especially little kids whose feet don’t even reach the ground – they need a little support. The Squatty Potty comes in two sizes, to fit the individual just right and get them into the right squatting position for optimal bowel movements. It also stores neatly under the toilet when not in use. If you don’t want to invest in a Squatty Potty – you could stack up some books, or use a little step stool – but once you do – you will see how great it is to get in the right position and you will want the Squatty Potty – because it can be washed clean, and fits perfectly next to the potty. As they say “try the stool for your stools!”
Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can lead to constipation (it also has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, due to calcifications of the arteries). As many as 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. This can result in constipation, headaches, sore muscles, nerve troubles, restless legs, nervousness, and even increased fractures. Taking magnesium before bedtime is helpful with constipation. For some kids, taking magnesium before school is also helpful – as magnesium is called “the calming mineral’ – so it can help them to be calm in school.
Seek out foods that are rich in magnesium – like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. If you are craving chocolate, it could be your body telling you that you need magnesium, because cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate) is one of the highest known food sources for magnesium. Most people also will benefit from taking a magnesium supplements, such as Natural Calm (for ages 4 and up). Magnesium can also be absorbed via the skin by soaking in an epsom or Dead Sea salt bath – I particularly like this brand Dead Sea Warehouse‘s salt bath product – it is very high quality and affordable. Another option is using magnesium oils – which can be applied topically.
If your bowels are feeling sluggish, vitamin C supplements can be a wonderful way to get the bowels moving. Chewing one or two of these vitamin C gummies on an empty stomach in the morning, might just be what is needed to produce a bowel movement (BM). – they are 125 mg each. For older kids, you might want to find a capsule, powder, or liquid vitamin C with 500 mg./serving. Vitamin C (like magnesium) can be taken to bowel tolerance* (the amount needed to produce a BM). If the stool is loose*, just take less vitamin C. If the vitamin C bothers the tummy – look for a buffered brand, or take with food (it will have less of an effect of moving the bowels however if taken with food). If tummy upset occurs from taking vitamin C, 1 glass of water with a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda mixed in might help reduce the acidity of the vitamin C. Learn more here: vitamin c for constipation.
* Taking too much magnesium or vitamin C can lead to diarrhea, so you want to gradually increase it over several days. If diarhea does occur – make sure to give your child an electrolyte replenisher and fluids – I like Scratch Labs electrolyte replenisher packets, or Nuun tablets. Make sure to back off and take less magnesium and vitamin C if this does occur.
Most Americans do not get nearly the amount of fiber they need each day. There are 2 types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water, creating a gel. Insoluble fiber passes through undigested, so it adds bulk. Adding too much fiber to the diet too quickly is not a good idea – it can cause discomfort, and can even make the constipation worse, especially if fluids are not increased along with the added fiber. So make sure to drink extra liquids as well when increasing dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber because it needs to soak up water in order to work. Adding in too much fiber, too fast, without enough fluids could not only cause discomfort, gas and bloating – it could even potentially cause a blockage – especially if there are already hard stools stuck in the colon. If a stool has not been produced within the past day, before adding in fiber to the diet – consider using an enema or suppository to make sure the colon is clean first – this will make a blockage less likely to develop from the added fiber. And remember to add the fiber in gradually.
Ideally before adding in any bulking fibers (insoluble fiber)… the bowels should have moved and be fairly cleaned out. If all of the above steps have been implemented and the bowels have not been moved. It is a good idea to do a thorough bowel “clean out.” Often, doctors will prescribe Miralax for this. But there are many other ways to achieve a clean out without Miralax. A glycerin or liquid pediatric suppository or an enema may be used at this point. If a suppository or enema is chosen, it is important for everyone to remain calm and not to appear embarrassed – the child often will mirror our behavior and attitude, and if they are tense – it can make it more uncomfortable. Using a little coconut oil as lubrication can make it significantly more comfortable. (Read: How to give a child an enema in 5 Steps).
Approximately how much fiber should my child get each day? It can vary from person to person – but a general guideline for kids ages 3-18 is to add the number 5 to your child’s age, and in general, that is the number of grams of fiber they need daily – so an average 11 year old, should have about 16 grams of fiber per day. A 6 year old needs about 11 grams. Recommednations for an average adult are to get about 25 grams each day. But again – this can very from person to person. Through experiementation – find what works for you and your child – and try to have a balance of soluble and insoluble fibers.
Some good fiber sources:
We need to balance out the bacteria in our gut – probiotics boosts the good bacteria, which is very important for healthy digestion, a balanced weight, and a strong immune system. Fermented and cultured foods and drinks such as kefir and yogurts can provide natural probiotics, or you can add a probiotic supplement to the daily routine. Prebiotics are also helpful – because they are food for the probiotics. Prebiotics are founnd in certain fibrous foods, and supplements.
There are instances when taking probiotics or prebiotics may not be a good idea – at least initially. If someone has Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), that means that there is bacteria growing in the small intestine, this can lead to bloating and distention when carbohydrates are eaten. If you suspect that your child may have SIBO ( gas, bloating after eating carbs), then you might want to seek out a SIBO specialist to have them evaluated and treated – they may or may not think probiotics are a good idea. Once the SIBO is resolved, probiotics may or may not be appropriate for repopulating the gut to prevent further dysbiosis. Some of the supplements mentioned above have probiotics and prebiotics
Read The Importance of Good Bacteria to learn more.
The body naturally produces hydrochloric acid (HcL) and enzymes to digest foods, which are needed to break food down for absorption and digestion. If we are low on stomach acid or enzymes, food may not get properly broken down for digestion, so it will be harder to pass through the digestive tract, and also the body will absorb less of the nutrients. If you suffer from acid reflux, you might think that you need to reduce the acid in your stomach. But usually, it means you do not have enough acid or enzymes.
Constipation can stem from issues with motility. When the migrating motor complex or the vagus nerve re not working optimally – this can lead to slow motility. If that is the case, stimulating the vagus nerve can help to get things moving again. Singing, vigorous gargling, gagging, and deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve. Or you can use a device called Nervana – which stimualtes the vagus nerve through the ear. In addition to improving motility, stimulating the vagus nerve can help with reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting a calm feeling and good sleep.
One of my favorite ways to sneak lots of good nutrition, fiber and hydration into a glass are smoothies. Especially good for picky eaters – smoothies are a great way to sneak in healthy ingredients!
Orange Dream Smoothie:
Makes one 8 oz. smoothie
Essential oils can be very helpful for dealing with the discomfort of constipation and helping resolve digestion issues. I like a product called Digest Zen from DoTerra. Peppermint essential oil is also very helpful when there is bloating or discomfort. But please be aware that essential oils are very powerful – even one drop is powerful – so always be sure to keep them out of young children’s reach. When using topically, always use a carrier oil (coconut works wonderfully). You can put a tablespoon of coconut oil into a little container – and add a few drops of essential oil like Dgest Zen – and then rub that on the belly as needed. You could also order or make your own DigestZen rollerball that has the carrier oil in it. Another topical remedy to consider is castor oil. Just rub a little castor oil on the right side of the abdomen (this is the liver area) before bedtime.
Realize that digestion issues may take a while to resolve, and it might be a good idea to slowly ease into the changes. If the constipation and digestion issues continue to persist, it might be prudent to schedule an appointment with a holistic or integrative practitioner to see if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed – such as an infection, parasites, SIBO, or another issue.
And just remember that if allowed to go on for a long time or get severe, constipation can become a medical emergency. According to this article by Dr. Mercola – Constipation Emergencies are on the Rise, “there was a 42 percent increase in ER visits for constipation in the US between 2006 and 2011.” If chronic constipation goes on for a long time, it could leads to a blockage, also known as fecal impaction. Or in rare very severe cases – constipation that has gone on too long – could lead to sepsis, a very dangerous infection. So it is important to not allow a child to go more than a a few days without eliminating – you may need to use an enema or a glycerin suppository to prevent a blockage if a child has gone more than a couple days without having a BM, and is getting very uncomfortable, is not eating well, and is not able to produce a stool on his/her own. If this is happening – please seek medical attention right away/have your child evalated by a gastroenterologist or pediatrician.
* Please note: the content in this article is for children ages 4 and up, and without any kidney disorder. This content is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided in this article is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons should carefully read the labels of all foods and supplements, and those who are taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions. Linked articles are provided for further resources and information and should not be construed as medical advice.
Drug for Adults Is Popular as Children’s Remedy – Previous title for this article was: “Miralax – a popular cure but never approved for children”
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
Have you heard of “skinny starch”? It is also called “resistant starch” – because it resists digestion. What that means is that it moves slowly through the digestive tract – so it helps to keep your blood sugar more stable, it is a prebiotic – meaning that it serves as “food” for the good bacteria in our colon. It is called the “skinny starch” because it can improve digestion, blood sugar, energy, and gut bacteria – all of which could potentially mean flatter bellies and weight loss. But before you run out and eat a lot of skinny starch – realize that like any fiber – especially a prebiotic one – you want to begin to incorporate it slowly, or it could potentially cause digestive upset.
One of the best sources of resistant starch in my opinion comes from a small tuber called a tiger nut. You can eat the nuts whole, or I like to add tiger nut flour to my daily smoothie. Resistant starch can also help you sleep – so this Tiger Nut & Cashew Horchata drink is a nice thing to have before bedtime. I also like to add tiger nut flour to desserts – like this raspberry tart!
“Sugar Cookie” Crust:
Put all the ingredients into a food processor, process until still crumbly, but starting to come together.
lightly grease a tart pan, and press the crust into it (I like to use my fingers to spread it around, then a flat bottom measuring cup to get it even. Press it so it comes up about halfway up the sides of the tart pan.
Put into freezer for about 20-30 mins.
Put all of the above into the Vitamix, and blend until combined.
Take crust out of freezer, and pour filling onto the crust – spread with a spatula or spoon. Return to freezer to set – at least 2 hours, up to a day ahead. Remove from freezer before you want to serve, add the raspberries, and whipped cream if you like (see below).
Coconut Whipped Cream (optional)
Put the coconut milk in refrigerator the day before you want to make the cream. Open the bottom of the can, and pour off the coconut water (reserve for smoothies, or another recipe).
Scoop out the coconut cream and put it into a bowl with the other ingredients, using a electric mixer – whip it up. Taste and adjust. Spoon onto slices before serving.
Want to learn more about Resistant Starch and get more delicious recipes – including “skinny starch” chocolate nut butter cups and cookie dough balls? Take my Resistant Starch eCourse!
Enter code Fox5 to save 20% – expires February 28th!!
Want to make a fruit salad that will stand out from the crowd? This is it!
The fresh mint and lime dressing really takes it to a whole other level. Kind of out of this world.
Great for Mother’s Day Brunch or any other celebration – or maybe “just because!”
Get the kids involved – kids love making and eating this fruit salad too!
If you want to make the melon balls and kiwi shapes – you will need the following equipment:
You could add any other fruit you like to this – grapes, pineapple, etc.
Or if you want to make this into a beautiful fruit skewer centerpiece – watch this video (you don’t need the lime and mint syrup for this)
I love making these mini omelettes in muffin tins – because they are easy and you always have leftovers. These are easy enough to get the kids involved – so why not make a batch for Mom for Mother’s Day? Bonus – because this makes quite a bit, there should be leftovers so mom won’t have to make breakfast on Monday either!!
Optional for serving:
Other good veggies to include in these: onions (I sauté these first), chopped tomatoes, red peppers, or your favorite.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
The secret ingredient in this chili is cauliflower – and you would never know it was there!! A member of the cruciferous family, cauliflower adds fiber, vitamins, minerals, and also helps to give it some “body.” Cauliflower is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and sulfur – which supports the liver. But the real star of this dish is the tomatillos and poblano chili peppers – they are so delicious!! My whole family loves this one pot dinner! You could also make it in a slow cooker – but it would take longer.
Serves 6-8 people.
Note: If you don’t have time for steps 1-5 and want a quicker and easier version – you could replace steps 1-5 with a jar of green tomatillo salsa – I like the Hatch chili kind at Trader Joes.
Recipe developed by Sara Vance. All rights reserved.
Can crepes change your life? These crepes are so easy, delicious, and versatile. So yes – I think these crepes just might!
I can whip them up in a few minutes, and then I have some on hand to use as a wrap, they make a nice after school snack for the kids, and are great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
Commonly thought of as a grass/grain, buckwheat is actually a fruit seed which is related to rhubarb, and is gluten free.
The nutritional benefits of buckwheat include: manganese, magnesium, copper, B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin, choline, D-chiro inositol, which can support healthy blood sugar, and bioflavinoids which supports healthy blood vessels.
This recipe is one of the many recipes in The Metabolism Summit Cookbook – one of the free gifts you get when you purchase The Metabolism Summit package!! Join me Feb 1-8th for this free event. Register here!!
I love it when I come up with a recipe that is healthy, and passes the kid taste test – this recipe hit it out of the ballpark on both accounts! Even my quinoa-hating daughter loved them – I only told her about the quinoa after she had decided that she loved them! My kids like to call them “meat muffins” because they are made in muffin tins – which makes them even more fun!
I have already made this recipe twice, and my kids regularly ask for it – so I plan to make it again this week. The leftovers make a great (hearty) after school snack, or a quick meal – but in my house, they don’t last for long!
Put the sugar into the vinegar and stir until it dissolves. Then add all the ingredients together, stir to combine – taste & adjust. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. This step can be done a day or two ahead.
This recipe is great with steamed broccoli with some grass fed butter and mashed potatoes. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days (they won’t last that long)!
*A note about quality – I always make sure to go for grass fed beef – to avoid hormones, antibiotics, and other additives – plus grass fed beef is higher in omega 3s and 500% higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional beef – which studies have found helps to burn fat (read this article to learn more). I also always choose organic for zucchini – because conventional zucchini is highly likely to be GMO, which I avoid because there is evidence that GMOs could be harming our gut health and even increase our risk of cancer. And finally – I always look for organic pastured or free range eggs – which also have a higher amount of omega 3s and no antibiotics or hormones.
Thank you to Coronado SAFE for inviting me to speak at your 3rd Annual Parenting Conference!
Recently someone whose child has been dealing with a bunch of health issues asked me “Why does kids’ health have to be so complicated nowadays?” He has a point:
The statistics are so grim that experts worry that in a few decades there may not be enough healthy individuals to take care of the sick individuals. In fact, this may be the first generation of kids which may not outlive their parents.
Take a walk down the aisle of your average grocery store, and you will see hundreds and thousands of brightly colored and flavor-blasted sodas, chips, cookies, cereals, bars, yogurts, candies, energy and sports drinks, mac n cheese cups, frozen pizzas and dinners, refrigerator doughs, ice creams, and a wide variety of foods specifically designed and marketed towards….our kids.
Seventy four percent of these foods contain added sugars. And far too many of these foods contain artificial colors, flavorings, flavor enhancers, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, trans fats, GMOs, and other ingredients that we don’t recognize or know what they are there for.
The question remains – is this even food? Or is it a science experiment? And do we want our kids to be lab rats in a giant experiment?
I know all too well how tempting all this junk food can be for a kid.
Can you guess who that girl is in this photo?
Yep – that was me. I think I was around 12 years old then. Some of my favorite foods were hot dogs and ice cream.
If you had told that girl that she would one day write a book, speak in front of large audiences, and go on TV regularly – all to share her knowledge about nutrition and health – she would have laughed herself silly. You see, when I was that age, I didn’t realize that what I ate affected everything – from my energy, to my moods, brain function, digestion, immune system, and my weight. All I cared about was how food tasted. And I frequently reached for things like hot dogs, candy, sodas, cookies, cakes, and chips.
Sure, they might taste good – but in the long term all that junk food can cause tremendous mental and physical pain.
But I am one of the lucky ones – because the majority of overweight children grow up to become overweight/obese adults.
The thing is – it doesn’t have to be this way.
NO ONE HAS TO BE A STATISTIC.
I am living proof.
So what can we do to stop this trajectory? The answer is surprisingly simple:
Eat Real Food.
Although it may be simple, it might not be so easy.
Because if you are eating packaged and processed foods, you are getting a lot more sugar, chemicals and GMOs in your diet than you realize.
Here are 5 Tips to Help you Improve Your Family’s Diet:
1. Cut way back on added sugar – read Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar? for more info.
2. Avoid anything with partially hydrogenated oils (this means there are trans fats).
3. Get the artificial colors out. If it has a color and a number after it, it is an artificial color. Artificial colors have been found to affect attention and behavior in some kids. In fact, in the United Kingdom – if a food has an artificial color, it has to have a label on it that says:
‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’
So instead of putting on that label, most manufacturers will use natural colorings instead. For example, if you buy Kraft mac n cheese in the UK, it is made with natural colorings, while the blue box in the US contains artificial colors. There are many other examples of this kind of double standard.
4. Avoid chemicals in foods like mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), flavor enhancers, and preservatives. If you can’t pronounce it, or don’t know what it is – it probably is a chemical.
5. Eat more plant-based foods – especially vegetables. Studies show that eating more plant-based foods can lower your risk of disease and prolong your life. Shoot for between 7 and 9 servings of plant based foods every day. Or try to fill up half your plate at least twice daily.
Want to learn more about nutrition and health?
Below are some additional resources:
This crust is gluten free and delicious – and easy to make!
Directions to Make the Pizza Dough:
Suggested toppings: carmelized onions, arugula, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, thinly sliced red peppers, slices green or black olives, and shredded goat or sheeps milk cheese.
4 Reasons to Cut Back on Sugar & 4 Tips for How to Do It
As parents, we know sweets and treats are not healthy, but our kids love them, and we want to make them happy. After all, a little sugar can’t hurt? It’s ‘just a cupcake,’ soda, or a candy bar, right? Why not indulge our children once and a while?
Four Reasons to take a hard look at the amount of sugar our kids are really eating:
1. It is not really a ‘once in a while’ thing.
An occasional treat sweetened with natural sugars is not a big deal for a healthy individual that is exercising regularly and eating a healthy whole foods-based diet. But kids today are getting way more than an occasional treat – a bowl of ice cream for dessert every night, sodas every day, candy after school, and treats in the lunchbox.
But even kids who aren’t eating dessert and soda every day are getting too much, because it is hidden in “healthy options” like juice boxes, sports drinks, snack bars, and things like fruit flavored yogurts. Sugar is in virtually every packaged foods, according to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF, “There are 600,000 food items in American grocery stores, and 80% of them have added sugar.” So in addition to the obvious culprits (like candy, cookies), there are the hidden sources of sugar that we don’t even count that are adding up (granola bars, yogurts, cereals).
2. Sugar is (like) a drug.
Studies show that sugar affects the brain much in the same way that cocaine does: What Happens to Your Brain on Sugar, Explained by Science. Sugar delivers a double whammy, it is highly addictive and stimulates the appetite. So the more sweet foods a person consumes, the more they want – creating a self-fulfilling cycle.
The Sugar Roller coaster
When we eat sugar, it goes surging into our bloodstream, giving us a burst of energy. But that energy is short-lived, and followed by a crash. So naturally, when our energy and mood crashes – we tend to reach for more of what gave us that burst of energy and the happy feeling – and the cycle happens all over again. I call this the “sugar roller coaster,” and it is easy to get stuck on it!
3. Sugar’s Impact on Health
When we are on the sugar roller coaster for a long period of time, the body becomes less able to process sugars as efficiently as it used to. So blood sugar stays elevated longer, and the body needs to release more and more insulin to lower it. This is referred to as insulin resistance, which leads to obesity as well as increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, and a recent study out of UCLA found that diets high in sugar negatively impact our memory and brain function. New research is now implicating sugar in the dramatic rise of Alzheimer’s disease – now being referred to as Type 3 Diabetes, because the plagues in the brain are similar to those seen in diabetes. Many of these diseases were thought to affect adults, but new evidence is finding that kids are increasingly affected.
It Happens Fast
Sugar doesn’t take long to make a mark. A new documentary called That Sugar Film chronicles a man who ate a “healthy low fat diet” with a high sugar content for 60 days, and measured it’s impact on his health. He ate no candy, sodas, or cookies, just “healthy” items like low fat yogurts, granola bars, fruit juices, and cereals – the kind of things that fill our kids’ daily diet. The results were shocking – he gained 4 inches of fat around his waist, developed fatty liver disease, and suffered from serious mood imbalances. This was in just 60 days! He wasn’t eating a whole lot more than the average teenage boy.
Watch the Trailer for That Sugar Film:
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, excess sugar is damaging kids’ livers – and increasingly to the point of no return. The liver is a very resilient organ, if you cut a chunk off, it can literally regrow back if there are enough healthy cells to do so. But there is a tipping point with the liver – where you can cross over to permanent damage. Dr. Hyman says that we are seeing a rise in the demand for liver transplants for tweens, due to diets high in sugar – particularly soda consumption.
4. We also have no idea how much is too much.
Excess sugar is linked to an increased risk of almost every disease – including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Because of this, the American Heart Association has come out with some very stringent recommended limits of added sugar based on the child’s age and caloric intake:
Considering the fact that one soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons, you can see how easy it is to shatter the above recommendations every day. In fact, on average, Americans consume 4 times the recommended amount of added sugar each day. Teenage boys are getting the most – almost 30 teaspoons a day! Over half of all 8 years olds drink one soda each day, and one third of teenage boys are drinking 3 cans of sodas per day. In these amounts, sugar is not harmless calories – far from it.
25 years ago when this doctor was a resident, he rarely saw patients with Type 2 diabetes, now half of all the patients in his clinic are Type 2 Diabetics. Sugar is not just empty calories, and it is not just a special treat anymore. It is making up nearly 20% of our total caloric intake because it is in 75% of all packaged foods – including “healthy” options. Excess added sugar can make your liver look like that of an alcoholic – which is why 1 in 10 kids now has fatty liver disease (40% of obese children). It is time for a change.
Four Tips for Breaking Free from Sugar:
1. Follow my “Rule of Three”
Certain foods help to level out the blood sugar. So when we eat them, we are less likely to spike the blood sugar as high as simple carbs and sugar. So I recommend that each time you eat make sure to get at least one or more of the following:
By getting healthy fat, protein or fiber each time you eat, you will stay off the sugar roller coaster and feel more satisfied and energized between meals. When your blood sugar is more stable, you will crave less sugar.
So instead of grabbing one of those 100 calorie snack packs – reach for apple slices with almond butter, or hummus and veggie sticks.
* Fat is Your Friend – Fat is a special case, because for decades we have been told that fat is what is making us fat and causing diseases, and the truth is – sugar and simple carbs are much more to blame. In fact, getting more healthy fats (like avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and grass fed butter) is one of the critical steps we need to take in order to get off that sugar roller coaster. One of the things that I have found with just about everyone that has an issue with sugar is that they are not getting enough healthy fat in their diets. Many people who are stuck on sugar got there because they have been trying to be healthy – and have been following a low fat diet. But here is the kicker – a low fat diet is not healthy. Our bodies need healthy fats to keep you blood sugar level, to suppress our hunger hormones, and to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Without sufficient fats – we are more likely to be hungry all the time.
2. Ditch the Artificial Sweeteners
“Diet” sodas are an oxymoron – because they do not help you to reach or maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that they raise the risk of diabetes, negatively impact our gut bacteria (linked to weight gain and much more), and are linked to weight gain (not loss). Plus – they stimulate your sweet tooth even more than sugar, so they make you crave and eat more sweets and carbs. And perhaps worst of all, artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals which can be cytotoxic to the brain – not good for anyone, and certainly not kids.
3. Shop Smarter.
As parents of young children, we buy the groceries – so if we just stop buying the sugar and junk, then at least it won’t be in the house for kids to eat. It is amazing how they might start to reach for healthier choices like whole fresh fruit when there isn’t an alternative. Plus, taking a short break can effectively “reset” your sweet tooth. Skip the sweets for a week, and your taste buds become more sensitive – so those candies are too sweet, and the apple is just right. Your kids might surprise you with what they choose for dessert after a few days!
4. Keep it in Balance & Set a Good Example
If mom or dad is eating lots of sugar, then they will be more likely to follow our lead.
So if mom and dad are making healthy choices and setting a good example for the kids, they will be more likely to follow suit. If you are struggling with getting the sugar out of your diet – consider taking Sara’s Break Up with Sugar eCourse – which will be available again in late January.
Just remember, it is next to impossible to eat ZERO sugar – so focusing on small amounts of natural sources and buying less packaged and processed foods will go a long way towards lowering your sugar intake. Plus when you make something from scratch – you can use less and better sources.
Want to learn more about how to help your family be healthier this year? Join Nutritionist and Author Sara Vance, at the Coronado SAFE Parenting Conference on January 24th to learn more about How We are Overwhelming Our Kids with Processed Foods. Sara’s talk will cover some key ingredients to look for/avoid, how these things could be impacting their health now and later, and some healthy swaps and tips for how to keep it all in balance.
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance